Two ‘poles’ will meet at International Writers’ Festival: Stephen Alter
azzayindia | October 7, 2008 at 10:20 amby
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International writers festival a brainchild of Stephen Alter begins in Mussoorie.
A sea of writers cascade in the quiet hillstaion town of Mussoorie.
The International Writers’ Festival 2008 to be held here, hosted by Woodstock School and sponsored by the Winterline Foundation, will provide an interaction with two eminent authors Gretel Ehrlitch, the author of ‘Arctic’, and Gabrielle Walker, the author of ‘Antarctica’.
According to the organiser of the festival, Stephen Alter, this will be the first time that the two authors will be meeting each other at the 2nd International Writers’ Festival at Parker Hall, Woodstock School on 8 October.
The festival, which begins on 7 October, will end on 11 October. Speaking to Garhwal Post, the Director, Development, at Woodstock and Organiser of the Festival, Stephen Alter, outlined the details of the festival. Some excerpts from an exclusive interview:
GP: How are you connected to Mussoorie?
SA: I was born, raised and educated at Woodstock, Mussoorie.
GP: When and where were you sent for further studies?
SA: After graduating from Woodstock, I went to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and received a BA degree in History (1977) and an honorary MA in literature (1982). Then I went on to work for seven years at the American University in Cairo as Director of the Writing Program. During 1986-87, I was Writer-in-Residence at the East-West Center in Hawaii, and participated in an inter-disciplinary study on "The Concept of Self in India, China and Japan”. Later I returned to the East-West Center on a Summer Fellowship in 1989.
GP: What made you return to India?
SA: I returned to India 3 years ago. As to why, I guess India and, especially, Mussoorie were calling and I had to listen.
GP: How were you inclined towards writing?
SA: It was at Woodstock School that I took to writing. Initially, I wrote poems and then took to short stories. I took to writing on nature as a theme as the school campus was surrounded by nature in abundance.
GP: Which was your first novel?
SA: I started with the fictional ‘Neglected Lives’, which I wrote in university. It was about a young Anglo-Indian caught between two cultures. It is about Lionel, who arrives in Debrakot on horseback, escaping a reckless love affair in Lucknow. The book deals with the aging Anglo-Indian community, which struggles with ghosts of the British Raj; the questions that arise from a legacy of mixed parentage. I submitted the book to the publishers in London on my way back to India. I was informed in India that the book had been accepted for publication.
GP: Does the book have a bearing on your life?
SA: It is primarily fiction but it does have some resemblance to my life.
GP: What other books have you authored?
SA: I have also written non-fiction like ‘All the Way to Heaven: An American Boyhood in the Himalayas’, ‘Sacred Waters: A Pilgrimage Up the Ganges River to the Source of Hindu Culture’, ‘Elephas Maximus: A Portrait of the Indian Elephant’, ‘Amritsar to Lahore: A Journey Across the India-Pakistan Border’, and fiction like ‘Renuka’, ‘Silk and Steel’ and ‘The Godchild’.
GP: How did the idea for the International Writers’ Festival germinate?
SA: As I was born and raised in Mussoorie, I always felt, and the point is corroborated by writer friends, that the hill station of Mussoorie is a magnet for writers, who are drawn to the tranquility of this mountain resort. The town provides an inspirational setting for most of the writers who visit Mussoorie.
It was then that this idea of bringing in the writers from around the globe set in and the First International Writers’ Festival was held in April 2007 with the support of Winterline Foundation, which is a non-profit, private foundation supporting programmes, institutions and organisations that encourage the development of individuals. It was a five day affair in which 28 eminent writers such as Bill Aitken, Paro Anand, Ruskin Bond, Shivani Singh, Nayantara Sehgal, Sudhir Thapliyal, Joe Reed, Hugh & Colleen Gantzer, etc., participated.
GP: What was the biggest achievement of the First Writers’ Festival?
SA: The festival’s achievements are many. It was successful in creating awareness of literary work by eminent authors. It also succeeded in showcasing Mussoorie as a hub for authors worldwide. The authors who came for the first time liked Mussoorie immensely. Such was the charm that Parul Anand, who visited Mussoorie during the festival, came back three weeks later to finish a novel in Mussoorie
GP: What is the theme for this year’s festival?
SA: "Writing about Nature" is the primary theme of the 2008 festival, bringing together authors who focus on subjects such as conservation, climate change, wildlife and other environmental issues. In addition to nature writers, we will also invite novelists, poets, dramatists, film-writers, editors and literary agents. The schedule of events will include five full days of public readings, panel discussions, media events, classroom visits and book signings. Many of these events will be open to the public.
Most of the writers, be it fiction or non fiction, have woven the web of words mixing science and poetry. The invited authors this year have worked on nature be it ‘Machans’ or the poles. Yes! By poles I am reminded of the fact that this year an amazing divine coincidence will happen. The Author of ‘The Arctic’ Gretel Ehrlich and Gabrielle Walker of the Antarctica will meet face to face for the first time in their lives on 8 October at Parker hall. It will definitely be a historic occasion for the 2nd International Writers’ Festival.
GP: What are the goals this time for the festival?
SA: This time, the goals are to increase the international character of the festival by inviting authors from a wider variety of nations. Greater representation will be given to Indian writers in Hindi and regional languages. More schools and other educational institutions in Mussoorie and Dehradun will be encouraged to participate and the added feature this year is that the Mussoorie Writers’ Fest 2008 will also sponsor writers-in-residence throughout the year. Distinguished authors and translators will be invited to spend 2-6 weeks in Mussoorie working on specific literary projects.
GP: Are you felicitating anybody from Uttarakhand this year?
SA: This year, we are honouring poets from Uttarkhand at Parker Hall on 7 October.
Girish Tiwari, Viren Dangwal, Leeladhar Jaguri, Narendar Singh Negi and Manglesh Dabral are the recipients this year.
GP: How many participants will be attending the festival this year?
SA: This year, too, we have a galaxy of distinguished authors, poets and writers lined up for the festival. Bill Aitken, Bruce Berger, Sampurna Chatterjee, Manglesh Dabral are a few who will be attending the festival.
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